This title must be one of the most misused and misunderstood in the film industry—so much so that, after the stampede of producers that took the stage to accept the Best Picture Oscar for Shakespeare in Love, the Academy instituted a three-person limit to the nomination credits.
On major motion pictures, producer credits are sometimes handed out like party favors; one to the guy who wrote the big check, another to the lead actor, and a couple more to long-suffering personal assistants and the guy who offered the shooting location for free. This is a common practice, but one that the Producers Guild of America is trying to change. In its effort to standardize credit guidelines, the guild recognizes a producer as the individual who is most responsible for the film’s production; this includes securing financing and holding “significant decision-making authority” over development, pre-production, principal photography, and post-production. The producer conceives of the initial concept, hires the writer and director, and sometimes staffs other key positions. He or she is also heavily involved in final casting decisions and contract negotiations. With the help of the UPM or line producer, this person must establish the production budget and shooting schedule, and may participate in scouting locations.
During principal photography, the producer trades time between supervising activities on set and coordinating logistics in the production office. He or she provides continual support to the director and is responsible for approving weekly cost reports. Creative decisions are ultimately at the discretion of the director, but the producer will consult on matters involving costume design, art direction, stunts, and mechanical effects. In post-production the producer collaborates with the director to hire a composer to score the film, supervises editing and visual effects, and facilitates necessary logistics for marketing and distribution upon completion of the final cut. In short, the producer is on the line for getting the movie in the can and shipped out to theaters before the money runs out. Some of the best-known directors work with the same producers over and over; producer Brian Grazer and director Ron Howard have made more than a dozen films together, from 1984’s Splash to Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon, The DaVinci Code, and many more.
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Skills & Education
Richard Zanuck is frequently quoted as having said, “The producer is like the conductor of an orchestra. Maybe he can’t play every instrument, but he knows what every instrument should sound like.” The producer is not required to know how to set the F-stop on a camera or check the gate, but he or she should know the difference between the two. A formal education is not required, though a college degree in film production and entertainment business is beneficial. A producer must understand the complete filmmaking process from development to post-production, distribution, and overseas licensing. She or he also needs to be extremely familiar with the negotiated stipulations of the Screen Actors Guild, IATSE, Directors Guild of America, and other pertinent associations and unions.
What to Expect
There are essentially two ways to become a working movie producer: Work your way up the ranks from production assistant, or put up the cash to make your own independent film. Either way, the road ahead is not an easy one and requires an opinionated individual ready with a take-charge attitude. If you take the entry-level route, concentrate your efforts on learning as much as you can about what goes on in the production office. Do not pass up opportunities to work on set, but you will not get to the producer’s chair by chatting up the grip. After you’ve put several credits under your belt, look for advancement as a production coordinator, line producer, and associate producer. Once you have landed your dream job, you can expect more than a few headaches and emergencies. On the upside, you will have the freedom to make the movies you are passionate about, and have significant creative control.